Despite boasting an unrivaled win percentage over rugby’s history, the All Blacks have continued to innovate the game in the quest for enhancement.
Just twelve months out from the Rugby World Cup, the mindset is no different. We hear snippets that they are working on a new attacking system, evolving once more. The overbearing influence of line speed in modern defensive systems requires a counter-balancing leap forward in attacking prowess.
That’s what the All Blacks are looking for, a style of attacking play that forces defences into a state of flux, where line speed becomes a weakness and triggers second-guessing.
“The biggest trend is being able to deal with all the linespeed and what variations you can put into your attack to punish that,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen before the match.
“We’ve talked about having a triple-threat game [run-pass-kick], and it’s having the ability to make good decisions with high-end skills.
In the first test against France, the All Blacks had fifty minutes of exploring before exploding with a bonanza of points. We saw them employ a number of different strategies but in the end, it was the same old plays off turnover ball and counter-attack that killed France.
The first ten minutes resembled the Highlanders playbook, with a kick-first and kick-second approach. Within the first ten minutes, Beauden Barrett had produced two grubbers in-behind and a cross-field chip, all within three consecutive touches. It was likely a ploy to slow down the early rush defence and get the defensive line turning.
After that initial burst, the kicks were shelved for the rest of the half as they tried to fall back into their patterns.
We saw elements of the 1-3-3-1 that Barrett runs at the Hurricanes, with Ryan Crotty and Jordie Barrett filling in as first receiver options. At times they struggled to get into a flow, with first phase errors and stout French defence causing turnovers.
Despite the teething issues, they cut the French open coming back to the left side after working to the right edge, a pattern the Hurricanes often find so much success with. Beauden Barrett finished in the corner on the next phase after Jordie’s line break. A try to Anton Lienert-Brown was disallowed but had similar lead-up work.
They employed the same kicking tactics again early in the second half, with frequent short kicks that paid dividends when Codie Taylor crossed after a deft left-foot grubber by Barrett.
Then it was Aaron Smith taking over, with back-to-back box kicks that pinned the French into their own five. The quick lineout off the back of France’s exit broke the game open as Ben Smith scored from basic catch-pass movement to the edge.
From there, it was a landslide of points as McKenzie burst through on a scything 60-metre run following a turnover. Then he went off again on the very next kickoff to set up a barnstorming try for Ngani Laumape. Rieko Ioane bagged a double with a long-range intercept and Ardie Savea finished the job with a pick’n’go try.
When it was all over the French were more than defeated, absolutely demoralised.
France’s line speed never really materialized and completely fell apart in the second stanza. As a result, we didn’t see a new All Blacks attack, just the same things they have always been good at. The frequency of tries minute after minute in the second half didn’t allow the All Blacks to hold the ball long enough to experiment with new structures.
The reality is the avalanche of points cannot be solely blamed on a ten minute period where France was down to 14-men. They were destroyed in every facet of the game. They failed to adequately transition in defence, made poor decisions, took bad angles, and left inexcusable overlaps due to bad spacing. The biggest worry is the edge defence, where the All Blacks ran roughshod over them in the second half.
France’s biggest hope to level the series is treacherous conditions as a leveler, where their brutality-based game can flourish in slow conditions. That might help them in the second test in Wellington, but it won’t save them under the roof of Dunedin.
Instead of finding a new attacking style the All Blacks found that France are still France, and they will fall apart when things don’t go their way.
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